We tend to think of parrots as great talkers – an image reinforced by countless movies, TV shows, and ads. However, not all parrots learn to talk, and even among species renowned for chattiness, some individuals never bother learning the human lingo.
Parrot have their own language, and will use it during their every waking moment! If you want them to catch the human-speech bug, you need to put in lots of time and effort. Catching the birds young definitely helps. They key is to talk to them every day, and to reinforce certain words and short phrases.
Some Blue and yellow macaws like to talk – but not all of them do
Some parrot species are “talkers” and natural mimics, including the African Grey, some of the Amazons (notably the Double Yellow-headed and the Yellow-naped), Eclectus Parrots, and Indian Ring-necked Parakeets. Of the Macaws, the Blue-and-gold is said to be the best talker, and of the Cockatoos, the Bare-eyed and Rose-breasted give you the best chance of a conversational bird.
It’s not only the larger parrots that like to chat. Budgies and Lories are often good talkers (see the Omlet Budgerigar Guide for more information on the former). Cockatiels don’t usually pick up many words, but if you catch them young they may catch the talking bug. Most other species can be taught a few words, although the sound tends to be indistinct.
It’s never too early to start teaching. Even a new, shy bird will pick up the noises from its environment, including speech.
First Lessons for Talking Parrots
The first stage of teaching a parrot to talk is all about repetition, repeating your chosen phrases. Words spoken with lots of modulation and dramatic expression seem to make the biggest impression. It helps if you pretend you’re speaking in an encouraging and affectionate way to a baby - that’s the kind of tone you’re going for.when teaching a bird to talk, it helps if the sound is accompanied by interaction. Repeating the phrases ‘parrot fashion’ will deliver results eventually – usually!
Lord Derby’s parakeets are not renowned as great talkers, but with perseverance you can teach them a few words
As many parrot owners have found, to their great embarrassment, if the bird catches the talking bug, everything you say will be listened to. This is how favorite curses and expletives end up in a parrot’s repertoire!/p>
Tips for Teaching Parrots to Talk
The following methods should help put the talk into squawk!
- Talk to the parrot when you put food or water into a cage. Start with a ‘Hello’-type greeting as you approach the cage or enclosure. Always say ‘goodbye’ (or similar) when you walk away from the bird or leave the room. A talking parrot will pick up these social niceties and say hello and goodbye to you!
- Repeat your chosen stock phrases whenever you’re near the parrot. Parrots are interested in all sounds, and will listen and watch you as you speak.
- Try to catch the parrot at its most receptive – first thing in the morning, just before feeding time, or when the bird is settled on a perch chattering happily in parrot-speak. It’s a waste of time to try teaching the bird when it’s distracted, tired, angry, afraid, or busy with something else.
- Choose simple words or phrases, and repeat them for at least two minutes, and no longer than five. Do this as many times as possible during the day.
- Try to fit in several short teaching sessions over the course of each day.
- If you say things like “I love food!” as you fill the trays, your parrot will link the sound to the action. If you’re lucky, he will start to say “I love food!” when you begin the bowl-replenishing process. Make the chosen sounds every time you carry out a certain action. It will take time – months – but, at the very least, it will build your bond with the parrot.
- Naming vegetables and fruit is a good trick too. Hold out a piece of carrot, banana, or whatever, and say the word for it clearly. Over time, if he’s conducive to such training, the parrot will learn the word for each item of food. When you say ‘carrot’, he will know what you mean; and if he says the word, try to offer the food as a reward (without overdoing any single foodstuff – a clever parrot will soon learn that saying the magic word produces his favourite treat!)
- Words said with feeling tend to stick. Unfortunately, this is why swear words and things like “Wow!” “Stop it!” and “Ouch!” tend to creep into a parrot’s vocabulary. This should not be taken as a cue to shout at your bird, but it is worth bearing in mind (as a note of caution as much as anything!)
- Encourage the phrases you want by rewarding with treats and enthusiasm; and discourage undesirables by not responding, or by firing back a desirable word each time.
African Greys are the parrot world’s great talkers
Tips for Reluctant Talkers
How do you loosen the tongue of a parrot who doesn’t want to join in the conversation?
- Choose a quiet moment with your bird – downtime on a standalone perch is perfect – and repeat your chosen word or phrase. Reward the parrot if it makes any kind of noise in response.
- Parrots seem to pay intention to higher-pitched words and phrases. Female voices or children’s voices may be able to make the breakthrough in teaching a bird to talk.
- Pick a single syllable word (such as “hi”), or the first syllable of a longer word. For example, if your parrot is called Nero, start with “Neer”, and only add the “o” when he’s mastered the first bit.
- If the parrot is hand-trained, hold him to your face as you speak, and let him see and hear the words close up.
Cockatiels are not renowned as great talkers, but some of them buck the trend
- If you can carry out the teaching session jointly with another person, you might make the breakthrough by forming a double act. For example, if you say “Hi!”, and your companion says “Hi!” back, the parrot may spot that this is an interactive game. Many birds will seize on this straight away, and will soon be saying hi to everyone.
- Reward any progress with treats; but never offer a treat if the parrot has not interacted at all.
- The underlying problem is often one of unfamiliarity with the sound of human voices. If your parrot lives with other birds, it will naturally talk parrot rather than English (or whatever language you’re teaching it – parrots know no linguistic barriers, and some birds have picked up Latin, Tolkien Elvish, and Klingon!). A radio, TV, or music player will boost the bird’s familiarity with human sounds.